An empty pub in York that has gone under many names will briefly find a new artistic cause, writes CHARLES HUTCHINSON.

ONCE it was The Bay Horse, then Certificate 18, The Speakeasy, Stereo, The Pink Pony and Munroe’s Bar, such fleeting names at the pub in Gillygate.

Now it will resurface as The Fleeting Arms and will close after six months, but this time the time-scale is planned, courtesy of owners Punch Taverns, who have given over the premises to York’s artistic community in the hiatus before the building is turned into a hostel.

Word came to What’s On via an email from York actress Anna Rose James, who wrote. “A little heads up, don’t know if Andy Curry has been in touch yet, but Gemma [Sharp] and I will be acting in Jean Genet’s The Maids, directed by Andy for Hedgepig, and the York run has just been confirmed for 4-6 June at the Fleeting Arms (new pop-up venue run by Flanagan Collective.)”

A call to the Flanagan Collective artistic director Alexander Wright confirmed The Fleeting Arms would indeed make its Fleeting appearance in Gillygate. When will you be starting? “This Friday.” Oh, that soon.

Alexander already has plenty on his arty plate, what with co-ordinating York Theatre Royal’s On Our Turf community arts and theatre projects in Pocklington, Helmsley, Easingwold and Selby; orchestrating the Flanagan Collective’s year ahead, including directing an all-female version of Romeo And Juliet in St Olave’s Church; and overseeing the annual Little Festival of Everything at the Fauconberg Arms in his home village of Coxwold.

He is not one to reject another artistic avenue, however. “It all came about because Punch Taverns also own The Gillygate next door, which is now one of their flagship pubs and they’ve had a great success with their refit under Brian Furey, who’s always welcomed theatre shows to the pub,” says Alexander. “So when they said to Brian, ‘the building next door will be empty for six months; do you want to do something with it?’, he contacted me and producer Brian Hook about it, and it was either us or being boarded up.

“We held an open meeting at The Gillygate; lots of people turned up and it was the sheer power of people saying yes that encouraged us to do something.”

His trilby at an ever jaunty angle, Alexander cut a composed, unflappable figure at The Fleeting Arms on Monday lunchtime, making cups of coffee; balancing being interviewed by The Press with greeting men bearing gifts of a pool table and swivel seats; chatting with artist and designer Jessica Watson as she busied herself with a pot of paint; and making arrangements for a window cleaner to remove the old Munroe’s sign.

Oh, and there were three new names – first names only – to be added by Alexander to the ever-growing list chalked up on the honours blackboard in appreciation of everyone who has played a part in transforming the dark Munroe’s into a lighter, brighter Fleeting Arms. That list will continue to grow.

“This has turned into more than a pop-up theatre,” says Alexander. “If we were doing a pop-up arts space, we would just be putting up posters, but I’ve been amazed by what people like Jess have been putting into this project. It does it a disservice saying it’s ‘pop-up’.”

Instead, The Fleeting Arms will have office space for arts groups’ admin upstairs; a bar cum cafe with staff on a living wage; and rooms for auditions, rehearsals, workshops, artwork, debates and performances.

“It’s good to embrace a transitory project, concentrating your energies on a short amount of time. When it’s only for six months, we shouted as loudly as possible [via the wonders of social media] and lots of people have said yes to being involved,” says Alexander.

“People have got in touch about really interesting stuff they want to do here, things there isn’t space in the city to do at the moment; things that wouldn’t need funding.”

At this juncture, Chris Andrade and Rich Wade, of York company Four Shadows Theatre, joined the conversation. “We specialise in making work in non-traditional spaces, such as buses and pubs, York Brewery and Knaresborough Library and the Treasurer’s House gardens for Illuminating York, and what we’re most pleased about is that there’s this empty space in Gillygate that is a blank canvas, a kind of open ground,” says Chris.

Rich welcomes that blank canvas. “York has a tendency to recycle the same old stuff, some good, some not so good, and here is a chance to create something new,” he says.

The minutiae of running costs can be a discussion point for another day, beyond confirming The Fleeting Arms will have to pay rates but there will be no charge per hour for use of the premises.

Instead, suffused with possibility, Chris says: “The fact that so many people have come forward to help and so many people are talking about it screams out that we need a place like this permanently when this one closes.”

Roll on tomorrow night: “Some drinks, some chat, some acoustic music, some spoken words, some art, maybe some dancing,” says Alexander. “And no charge.”

The Fleeting Arms will be open 11am to 11pm daily from tomorrow. Anyone wishing to learn more should contact